JACKSONVILLE, Fla., – As part of the Jaguars' annual franchise update on Tuesday, Jaguars owner Shad Khan proposes a 48-acre downtown riverfront development.
The project would "transform the Shipyards riverfront downtown property into a vibrant entertainment and leisure district," according to a release from the Jaguars.
The city-owned property on the north bank of the St. Johns River that was once a working shipyard would be transformed into a "year-round destination that bridges EverBank Field and the Sports Complex to downtown Jacksonville."
"It represents a signature opportunity for the future of Jacksonville and downtown," Khan said. "An opportunity that is rare, immediate and widely important."
Mayor Alvin Brown and members of the City Council who attended the event would be instrumental in giving Khan and his newly created Iguana Investments access to the property and support to the development.
"We have a successful owner in the Jaguars. I think Shad and his team took their time. They listened to a lot of people, selected the right architect, and really made it iconic and visionary," Brown said. "You really can see it and feel it and it's something for the whole community to be proud about, but making it a destination is the key."
The property has been at the center of numerous failed development plans, bankruptcies and legal disputes since the Jacksonville Shipyards closed in 1992.
Since then, several developers have made an attempt to transform the prime riverfront property. In fact, they're very similar-- all the proposals promised more housing, plenty of acres for public leisure, spaces for offices and commercial use.
It was supposed to be one of the biggest economic gains that Jacksonville had ever seen -- a $782 million shipyard development project dubbed the billion dollar mile, a turning point for the city in 2001.
The city and the developer, Tri Legacy, would allow the development of housing, parks, and commercial offices and phase one was set to be completed by Superbowl 2005.
But that plan fizzled. The company ran into financial problems and eventually the deal was investigated by a grand jury. The city lost $36 million, but no one was ever charged with criminal wrongdoing.
In 2005, developer Landmark took over with the plan of a lavish park, an extended river walk, condos and office buildings. But by 2009, the developer's parent company filed for bankruptcy and Landmark settled with the city for $13.4 million.
Former Mayor John Delaney has been involved in past proposals and said he believes the new plan just might stick.
"The advantage of these kind of things downtown, even if you never go downtown, is they generate a lot of taxes and so this project looks like it will do that," Delaney said. "But I think it's a really healthy thing. I'd love to see it."
Kansas City-based Populous provided the initial conceptual design support to the project. Ben Stindt, senior architect and principal at Populous, joined Khan and Jaguars president Mark Lamping at the presentation.
"The day is finally here," Stindt said. "We don't have to be secretive about the plans for it."
Populous was the original designer of EverBank Field and has worked with the city and the Jaguars on the EverBank Field improvements project, including video boards and other upgrades. They also were the firm behind the renovations of Camden Yards, the University of Arizona stadium and many other large public projects.
The site would be developed into a mixed-use district with public park space, a river walk and other uses that may be supported by the market, with potential options including residential, office, retail, restaurants, a hotel, a football-themed public space, a marina, and a permanent home for the USS Adams Navy ship that would turn into a museum attraction.
"Shad Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars organization has one more time demonstrated their unbelievable commitment to the city of Jacksonville, honoring the military and our city with their plans," said Joe Snowberger of the USS Adams museum.
The project also includes plans for an aquarium somewhere off Bay Street for up-close encounters with sharks and rehabilitating manatees.
"We think a world-class aquarium is going to anchor that area and we think it's going to draw people year-round," said Dan Maloney of the Jacksonville Zoo. "It's going to be a weather-proof facility and we think it's going to be just as crucial as any of the other suggested landmarks down in that section."
Feasibility studies, market research and due diligence by Iguana Investments and the city of Jacksonville will be conducted to determine the specific types of development that would be thrive long-term at the Shipyards.
Representatives from Iguana Investments will deliver a proposal to the Downtown Investment Authority next Monday.
"If we have a very strong, thriving, growing downtown, filled with people who live here, work here, who want to come visit here, that's great for Jacksonville," Lamping said. "And what's great for downtown Jacksonville is wonderful for the Jaguars."
Some local business owners in the area are excited about the prospects of drawing more customers to the area.
"It's going to be a good development for Bay Street and for all the businesses here to get entertainment and more food down here," said Kyle Miller of OnPointInk Tattoos.
Locals who live nearby-- such as Douglas Wulff who had been forced from his home after the collapse of Liberty Street, are hopeful for good news to reach the down town area.
"I'm really excited about it. I think it's going to bring a lot of new business. And that's going to be fun, whether restaurants, bars clubs it'll be great," said Wulff.
However, a lot of people are leery whether this project will happen. According to an unscientific poll News4jax conducted, 40 percent of respondents think it will happen-- while 60 percent do not. Although there is little hope from our local area concerning the vision, Mayor Alvin Brown remained positive.
"I'm very excited about it. I made downtown a priority, I share and believe in Shad Khan's vision for downtown. It was an excellent presentation. It's going to make downtown a destination," said Brown.